A troubling turn

October 21, 2005

Inadequate." "Insufficient." Even "insulting." Those were among the strong reactions of Republican and Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to written answers submitted by Harriet Miers, President Bush's choice for the U.S. Supreme Court. She was responding to questions the committee asked in advance of her confirmation hearings scheduled to begin Nov. 7. It may be that Ms. Miers can recover quickly by resubmitting a more thoughtful and thorough account of her views. But the bipartisan negative reaction to her first set of responses is another embarrassing turn for a troubling - and apparently more and more troubled - nomination.

An unusual choice from the beginning, Ms. Miers was a longtime civil attorney whose principal selling point seemed to be her close professional and personal relationship with Mr. Bush, whom she now serves as White House counsel. That created problems when Mr. Bush kept vouching for her on the basis of her character and her "heart." The White House also tried to signal conservative supporters that she should pass muster because of her membership in an evangelical Christian church that was basically pro-life. Such reliance on personal characteristics and religious affiliations as substitutes for a still-developing judicial philosophy is unacceptable.

Since she has no judicial experience that would yield a trove of written opinions, the Senate questionnaire offered a golden opportunity for her to fill in some blanks about how she views various legal and constitutional issues. But she was not very forthcoming, focusing her answers more on describing the facts or the issues raised in cases she handled, without much interpretation of positions she argued or supported. She also repeated the standard Bush administration mantra that "the role of the courts is to interpret law and not to make it."

Perhaps most telling is the description of her selection process. Ms. Miers wrote that initially she had not wanted to be considered, but she understood that, at some point, "individuals at the White House began considering me as a potential nominee without advising me." Based on the way the White House has handled the nomination and Ms. Miers has handled herself, her friend Mr. Bush has done neither her nor the nation any great service by trying to elevate her to the country's highest court.

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